Matchup of the Day: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai vs. Savage Streets
Independent director Jim Jarmusch and actress Linda Blair were born on this date. Today we’ll look at two films about honor and vengeance where lone heroes stand up for what they believe in. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai directed by Jarmusch tells the story of an urban samurai hit man taking on the mob out of loyalty to his master. Savage Streets starring Blair is about a tough high school student seeking revenge against a gang of thugs out of loyalty to her family and friends.
In Ghost Dog, Forest Whitaker plays an assassin in the service of a mobster who saved his life. Throughout the film he stresses following the code of the samurai. In particular, he values protecting his master and abiding his will. Whitaker later goes on a killing spree when the life of his master (as well as his own) is threatened by other mobsters. Savage Streets features Linda Blair picking off the gang members who assaulted her sister and killed her friend. She, too, follows something of a code. Which of the two characters most closely follows the Eight Virtues of Bushido, or the samurai code? Let us compare:
RECTITUDE OR JUSTICE
Rectitude is one’s power to decide upon a course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering; to die when to die is right, to strike when to strike is right.
When Blair finds out about the attack on her sister and the murder of her friend, she vows immediately to get some pay back. After finding out who the culprits are she purchases a crossbow and some bear traps and sets out to shorten their life spans. Though the execution of her plan is a bit sloppy, she sees it through to the very end. In all fairness, Whitaker is a trained killer in Ghost Dog, and so he goes about the business of slaying mobsters with a bit more precision. Blair, though strong and determined, is just a high school student.
Courage is doing what is right.
This isn’t just about bravery, but about knowing what is right and doing what is right. In this case, Whitaker is a hired killer. Even though he does his job out of respect for the man who saved his life, he still works for criminals. Blair is a rowdy teenager who doesn’t put up with any s**t. When a concerned teacher cautions her about taking the world on by herself, she replies “You don’t know anything!”. This implies that Blair has a deeper understanding of what needs to be done to right the wrongs in society, and the bravery to face them. Whitaker’s courage is more within the confines of serving his master.
BENEVOLENCE OR MERCY
Love, magnanimity, affection for others, sympathy and pity.
According to the Theory of Basic Human Values, benevolence is “preserving and enhancing the welfare of those with whom one is in frequent personal contact”. Both Whitaker and Blair follow this. Blair shows great concern for her fiends and her deaf sister, while Whitaker is devoted to the mobster and his friend who operates an ice cream truck. He is also kind to a precocious girl from his neighborhood. It could also be said that Whitaker is strong in the Value of universalism, which is “understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature”. He seems to have a particular bond with animals.
Politeness should be the expression of a benevolent regard for the feelings of others.
This is probably not a Virtue that Blair exhibits in Savage Streets. She is confrontational and antagonistic to those outside her group, though most of the people she interacts with don’t really deserve politeness. Whitaker has a polite demeanor most of the time. He does steal cars, and even the clothing of a couple at one point, so he may not always be concerned about the feelings of others.
HONESTY AND SINCERITY
Men must grudge money, for riches hinder wisdom.
This Virtue appears to be in regard to living a simple life without the distractions of wealth, rather just being truthful. Whitaker most definitely follows this Virtue, as he is not motivated by material gain. His only possessions, outside of weaponry, are books. Blair doesn’t seem to place much importance on wealth. Her lifestyle is not as spartan as Whitaker’s, however.
True patience means bearing the unbearable.
This one’s about maintaining composure and not being a hot head. Blair is quick to come to blows in Savage Streets when someone gives her lip. She wrestles with a snotty classmate on two separate occasions, the first time in the girl’s gym shower room. Also, she is quite vengeful in general. By this definition of Honor, she probably doesn’t follow the Virtue very well. Whitaker is calm and collected throughout Ghost Dog.
Loyalty to a superior was the most distinctive virtue of the feudal era.
Blair doesn’t answer to anyone in Savage Streets. She looks out for the people she cares about, but ultimately her actions are based on what she believes needs to be done. There is no master that she professes loyalty to (and not many authority figures worth following in the movie). Whitaker is all about serving a master, even to the point of coming to personal harm.
CHARACTER AND SELF-CONTROL
Bushido teaches that men should behave according to an absolute moral standard, one that transcends logic. What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong.
Blair may actually exemplify this better than Whitaker. She operates based entirely on her own standard of right and wrong, no matter how much anyone may try to reason with her. Her self-control may be lacking, but her strength of purpose is rock solid.
Anyone seen both of these and have an opinion?